Just like other countries, Korea also celebrates a day commemorating freedom. Such day is what they call the National Liberation Day which is celebrated every 15th of August every year. This holiday is called the Gwangbokjeol (광복절) in Korea. In Chinese characters, Gwang means light while Bok means to return. Hence, the full words mean “the day the light came back”. The 15th of August is indeed the day the light came back to Koreans because after being deprived of basic rights for a long time and being forced into labor and military service, they were finally able to achieve freedom during this day.
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What is the Gwangbokjeol? (About the National Liberation Day in South Korea)
On the 15th of August, many activities and events take place in South Korea. There is an official ceremony attended by the South Korean president. It is held either in the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts or the Independence Hall of Korea.
Homes and buildings display the South Korean national flag called the Taegukgi. Many places and public museums can be entered in by people, free of charge. People can also use public transport, like intercity trains, for free.
The Gwangbokjeol song is sung at official ceremonies. The lyrics of the song were written by Jeong Inbo while the melody was composed by Yoon Yongha. The lyrics sing “to touch the earth again” and how “the sea dances”, how “this day is the remaining trace of 40 years of passionate blood solidified” and to “guard this forever and ever”
Also during this day, the South Korean government traditionally issues special pardons.
The Korean peninsula had been invaded by various colonizers. Hence, the Korean people have undergone various hardships. One of the worst times in Korean history occurred during the first half of the 20th century. This was the time when Korea became a colony of Japan. Under Japanese rule, the Koreans were forced to change their names to Japanese names. Many of them were forced to provide labor and service to the Japanese military, especially towards the end of the second world war. But the Koreans did not falter. Many of them fought against Japanese oppression. They stood up against their colonizers, even to the cost of their lives.
Is Samil Day different from the Gwangbokjeol?
There is an important day of commemoration for Koreans which is called Samil Day. It occurs every 1st of March each year. Samil Day commemorates one of the most important uprisings in Korean history. Various Korean nationalists declared the independence of Korea during this day. However, the struggle for freedom continued on for another 25 years in the country.
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When Did Korea achieve its independence from Japanese rule?
In 1945, Korea finally achieved its freedom. Three years later, on August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was established. Syngman Rhee became the first president of the Republic of Korea. And on September 8, 1948, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was established under Kim Il-sung.
As mentioned earlier, the Gwangbokjeol, or the National Liberation Day is always celebrated every 15th of August each year.
Why Do We Celebrate Gwangbokjeol / National Liberation Day?
The following are the main reasons why we celebrate National Liberation Day in Korea:
To Celebrate Freedom
One good reason to celebrate this special day is that this day is primarily a celebration of freedom. As mentioned earlier, the country of Korea has been colonized by Japan for about 35 years. And during that time, the Korean people suffered from abuse like being forced into labor and military service. Hence, when they finally achieved their freedom, they were overjoyed. This achievement of independence is thus worth celebrating.
To Honor the Unsung Heroes
The attainment of freedom by Korea was not met without heroes. There were people who gave substantial contributions toward Korea’s achievement of independence. These heroes need to be remembered and honored during this special day. Hence, you must celebrate this day in order to honor these important people who have contributed to the freedom that you are enjoying right now.
To Become Knowledgeable about the Past
It would also be good to celebrate this day in order to become knowledgeable about the past. If you still do not know a lot of things about Korea’s struggle for freedom, celebrating this day would be the perfect time to do so.
Celebration Ideas and Activities
The following are the best things to do to make your celebration of the Gwangbokjeol as best as it can be:
Display the Korean Flag
During this day, the public, including the government and the people, hang the Korean on the streets. Since the Korean flag is the major symbol of the day, you must not forget to display it as well.
Honor The Heroes of Independence
The truth about Korea’s struggle for freedom is that the country wouldn’t have successfully achieved its independence if it weren’t for brave people now considered as heroes. There were people who suffered and got killed during colonial times. There were even those who gave up their lives just so the country could achieve its freedom. Here are some of the people worth honoring during this day:
Ryu Gwansun (1902-1920)
Ryu Gwansun was an influential figure who became the symbol of the Samil Day held every March 1. She was only 16 years old when she organized a movement in her hometown. She led the demonstration on March 1. As a consequence, her family was brutally killed by Japanese soldiers. She was also imprisoned. Even as she was locked up in prison, she continued to declare the liberation of Korea. At 17 years old, she died due to injuries sustained from being tortured.
Ryu Gwansun is now known as “Korea’s Joan of Arc”. She has inspired not only Koreans but countless of people all over the world. A shrine of her was built in Byeongcheon-myeon. In 1962, she was posthumously awarded with the Order of Independence Merit, an award given by the President of South Korea for outstanding meritorious services in the interest of founding or laying a foundation for the Republic of Korea.
Ahn Jung Geun (1876-1910)
Ahn Jung Geun was a Korean independence activist and nationalist. He became known as the assassinator of Ito Hirobumi, Japan’s prime minister and former Resident-General of Korea. Ahn Jung Geun shot Hirobumi and yelled for the Independence of Korea while waving the Korean flag. As a consequence, to his actions, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Japanese government. He was, however, praised by the Japanese for his perspective on Pan-Asia, which is similar to the concept of the European Union.
There is a memorial hall for Ahn Jung Geun located in Seoul, South Korea. You can visit this location during this special day of celebration.
Kim Gu (1876-1949)
Im Gu is a historical figure who was a Korean that established a provisional government of Korea in China. This organization worked as the main quarter for the liberation movements. His reason for moving to another country was his fear of being killed by the Japanese. When Korea gained its independence, Kim Gu came back to Korea but that time, the country was already divided into North and South. He worked on uniting the two countries. In 1949, one year after the foundation of the South Korean government, he was assassinated by a Korean soldier. There were many rumors regarding his death, but none has been proven yet.
Learn More About the Historical Events
Another good thing to do for this day is to learn more about the historical events that unfolded which led to the achievement of South Korea’s independence. These events are very much important to be known by the people, especially if you are Korean. Hence, you should take time to read books or watch documentaries that tell the stories and facts about the history of Korea.